Chuck Jones, the Warner Brothers cartoonist who created the Road Runner character, said the bunnys, pigs, ducks and other animals were all based on the bosses that Jones and his co-workers labored for each day.
The Road Runner provided a lot of bang for the
buck and was an instant hit for Plymouth in 1968.
We assume that Chuck’s boss was a real big success, because the Road Runner character was a winner for Plymouth.
That company, once best known for making inexpensive taxicabs, may have been about the last nameplate to bring out a midsize muscle car when it introduced the 1967 Belvedere GTX. However, it was the first automaker to exploit the potential market for a low-buck performance car when it introduced the 1968 Road Runner.
The idea of putting a powerful engine in the cheapest, lightest model available was not a new one and wise users of the option list had been ordering “Q-Ships” for years. With the Road Runner, Plymouth did all the work for the customer. The company gave the car a low price that youthful buyers could more easily afford and wrapped it all up in a gimmicky fashion — using a popular Warner Bros. cartoon character as the car’s namesake.
Using Road Runner identification and a horn that emulated the cartoon bird’s well-known “beep-beep” got attention in the marketplace. The lowest-priced Belvedere two-door sedan was the basis for the Road Runner and came “complete” with such standard fleet items as plain bench seat and rubber floor mats.
The first Road Runner’s standard engine was a 335-hp version of the 383-cid Chrysler B-block. It was rated at only 5 hp more than the regular 383, but many believe it had more power than that due to the use of cylinder heads, intake and exhaust manifolds and a camshaft from the Chrysler 440-cid V-8. Added to the mechanical goodies were a standard four-speed manual transmission, a heavy-duty suspension, 11-inch drum brakes and red stripe tires.
The kicker for the Road Runner was its low $2,870 price. If you wanted some interior niceties such as carpeting and bright trim, you had to invest $79.20 for the Road Runner Decor Group. If you wanted to kick the toy image, you had to ante up $714.30 extra for the 426-cid/425-hp Street Hemi.
A two-door hardtop was added midyear and its 15,359 production run was added to the coupe’s 29,240 tally to make the Road Runner a winner. Of those, 1,019 were Hemi-powered.
Car Life said that the Road Runner “emulates what a young, performance-minded buyer might do on his own if properly experienced and motivated.” It was the car you would have had, back in the ’60s, if old J.C. Whitney sent you every goodie he had in his catalog. Even with its base 383-cid/335-hp V-8, the Road Runner turned a 7.3-second 0-to-60 times and a 15.37-second quarter-mile at 91.4 mph, and there was still the Hemi powerplant. Awesome!
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